The Swarm Cycle Universe Copyright 2007 The Thinking Horndog
(Thirteen years after the Average Joes Defense Force Special)
The story ‘Water, Water’ took place about a year earlier, so there are already Sa’arm on the planet, in Africa.
This happens at the same time as my story, ‘Fly By’. You may read either one first.
‘Earthat’ is the name the Confederacy has given to our entire solar system. It is the solar system where ‘Earth is at’.
The Sa’arm force dropped out of hyper just over one point four million kilometers from the Earth’s moon. They were almost fifty thousand kilometers above the plane of the ecliptic.
Three hive spheres, two recon spheres and their heavy escorts formed into an arrowhead formation and accelerated onto a straight line run, heading roughly past the moon and towards the planet on the other side. As the human defenders started maneuvering, the hive spheres started disconnecting and launching their light ships. At the three G’s of constant acceleration that the spheres were using, if the Sa’arm went straight for the Earth without slowing, they could be there in less than three hours. For a zero-speed, zero-distance intercept ending in an orbit around Earth, they would be there in just under four hours. Either way, the Confederacy Navy was waiting for them.
Flag Bridge, aboard CVA016, John F. Kennedy
“Admiral, CIC labels the five larger bogies as one Voluptas class Hive Conquest Sphere, two Virtus class Hive Colonizer Spheres and two Volumna Class Recon Spheres. The big one is half a billion tons. All five are deploying their light ships. If they all have full complements, by our most current information, total count will be sixty-three in-system lights as well as fifty-one hyper capable lights. The non-hyper, light ships consist of thirty-six Lima in-system attack fighters and twenty-seven Lactanus in-system corvettes. The hyper capable lights consist of thirty-three Vacuna class hyper capable scouts, nine Vaginatus hyper corvettes and nine Venti class hyper destroyers. The Voluptas has deployed a heavy escort of three battleships and nine cruisers. Each of the two medium spheres has deployed three battle ships and six cruisers. The recon hive ships have three cruisers apiece as well. Thirty-six heavies total.” Lt Jenkins looked up from his display panel. His face was pale in the bridge lights. The enemy had about twice the support ships than the earlier, limited scans at the Oort cloud had indicated. The admiral showed no emotions, but his flag lieutenant knew that he was worried.
“OK, ignore all that in-system stuff unless they come after us. Take down those lightweight hyper-capable ships. They are the only things that should be able to make it back out of the system. We let the Raptor and Semmes classes take out some heavies and then we’ll hit the big boys. Our lights can pick off the Limas and Lactani as the opportunity presents. Stupid naming system! Who makes an ‘attack fighter’ that is slower than almost everything we have and that has at least ten crew?”
The human task force was heavily outnumbered by total ship count and by tonnage. Earth was home, but there were a lot of important places to cover.
The day before yesterday, hyper drive sensors had detected transits in the region of the Oort cloud, roughly one light year out. The Sa’arm had formed up and waited almost a day before heading into hyper drive again. Confederacy ships had significantly faster hyper-drives than the Sa’arm ships did, with a speed of roughly twenty light years per day, as opposed to one light year per day for the big hive ships. The hive’s escorts were a bit faster than that. Unfortunately for the humans, the escorts and the scouts had all stayed with the hives. This meant there was no chance to defeat them in detail. For much of the past day, the enemy fleet had been shadowed in from their first hyper-space exit and rally point, with hyper-jump drones bringing the reports well in advance of the Swarm. A modified Archerfish was still trailing them, but it had very few missiles and had fired off nearly its entire complement of drones notifying the system of the impending invasion.
Confederacy ships also had much higher normal space acceleration rates, with some ships capable of hitting one hundred G’s of acceleration. The Confederacy had long had the means to make their ships that fast, but prior to the Swarm invasion and the recruitment of the humans, they had never thought that those rates were safe, or really needed. Gravitic compensators made it possible. Occasional compensator failures made it lethally dangerous. Warfare made it needed.
The Sa’arm’s highest acceleration rate was the twenty-five Gs that the Ventis could reach. The Venti was actually a copy of a captured Confederacy ship, refitted with Sa’arm weapons and now being used by the Sa’arm as a weak, but fast destroyer class. It could even hit thirty-two Gs in an emergency, but it only had weak gravitic compensators that negated about ten percent of the felt acceleration. No one had ever seen the Sa’arm using its full capabilities. The big hive spheres could only push up to five Gs in an emergency while their battleship and cruiser escorts could do only eight Gs. Nonetheless, in combat, quantity has a quality all its own. The Sa’arm outnumbered the Confederacy forces by two to one in actual numbers and much more in total tonnage. Only the two human carriers were as large as the Swarm battleships.
The Swarm formation started shaking out. As seen from the human fleet, the spheres themselves were in a flattened two-dimensional diamond formation. The Conquest Sphere was in the center of the diamond, with a Colonizer Sphere to either side, one Recon Sphere ‘up above’, and one ‘down below’. The heavy escorts were in front of the spheres and the lighter ships were deployed even farther to the front, except for a few which were trailing the entire formation. Each hive ship had one third of their scouts in the very front, one third just behind the light attack craft and one third in the rear. The biggest sphere had none of the light attack craft but it seemed to be using its larger, non-hyper capable corvettes in the same role. It also had a solid clump of destroyers and hyper capable corvettes in the center just ahead of the cruisers and the battle ship. The Colonizer Spheres used their non-hyper corvettes in a similar manner. To get to the spheres, you would have to fight through the entire length of the spear-point shaped formation.
The Admiral looked at his plot as if he was hoping for more friendly forces to just appear at his wish. The system forces had been scattered all over the system on patrols, training maneuvers, and posted at the gas giants when the first signals came in. Now they were straggling in, one squadron at a time, as fast as they got the news and could make a hyper transit. Finding nothing new, he casually gave the expected signal. “Signal to the flankers. Execute Plan W2 - Wolves - Harry the prey.’”
OR, you could already be behind and to the flanks when the Swarm dropped out of hyper in the first place. A squadron of six Semmes class missile cruisers in three divisions was trailing the enemy fleet from three sides, left, right and ‘above’. If they had been cars on the freeway, they would all have been one lane over in the Swarm’s blind spots. Per standing orders, they had each flushed their tubes of all four light missiles and the two heavy torps as soon as the enemy started dropping out of hyper. Now, reloading quickly, they got a second aimed salvo off with the missiles before the Swarm even realized they were there. The heavy torps had a lot more range and final speed but their launchers were slower to reload. With the Semmes’ huge acceleration advantage of seventy-five Gs, they then slipped out of the range of the spheres’ heavy weapons. The attacks had been done from just inside the missiles’ extreme range while on a parallel course. Their later missile attacks would require speed runs tangential to the Sa’arm fleet’s weapons envelope. This would only place the ships at risk during the moments of closest approach. Three of the Swarm in-system corvettes, a battleship and a cruiser were quickly destroyed and two more cruisers were seriously damaged by the first salvos. The largest sphere had also taken a hit and was trailing atmosphere and debris. True to their reputation, even in an ambush situation, the Swarm ships managed to knock out many of the incoming missiles with their particle beams and lasers, but one big torpedo had hit the hive sphere even after it was itself lasered and no longer accelerating. Several tons of scrap metal hit the sphere at one hundred kilometers per second. The half a billion-ton ship pressed on, now a bit lighter, accompanied by an expanding cloud of debris. One of the deploying in-system corvettes had taken another hit that would have smashed into its mother ship. The Colonizer Sphere took no damage from the nearby explosion, but the corvette was completely destroyed.
Also available were twenty of the newer ‘Raptor’ class medium cruisers. Designed from the ground up to fight hive spheres at the maximum possible closing speeds, their launchers contained no formal missiles. Instead, they carried ‘barrels’ full of ‘sand’, chaff, sensors and/or countermeasures.
The Raptors had taken the predicted final hyper-space exit points, used their hyper-space drives to position themselves and then they had started their speed runs in pairs. Ten were ahead of the fleet, closing to meet the enemy head on, and ten more were coming in from behind. The first pair of the outgoing group had already passed their assigned breakout point, gotten outside the hyper limit and had engaged their hyper drives to go back around to their starting point. Of the trailing group, ‘Kite’ and ‘Fish Eagle’ were quite a ways back, having been the ones to cover the earliest and thus, the furthest away, of the projected exit locations. ‘Cuckoo-hawk’ and ‘Kestrel’ were also in the rear, but they would make their pass just before the fleet closed. Another pair was on another pattern, too far to one side and they could not be back in position for three hours. ‘Sea Eagle’ and ‘Aquila’ were well in front, but were now going the wrong way. They would try to make a tight, high-speed orbit around the Earth to catch the Swarm napping. ‘Sparrow Hawk’ and ‘Snake Eagle’ were the second pair heading outbound from Earth. They had already passed the hyper exit point and would take at least an hour just to stop before they could start blasting back. They were probably out of the fight.
Currently ‘Buzzard’ and ‘Vulture’ were on the best and earliest intercept course. Moving at one percent of the speed of light, they had been accelerating for nearly an hour at their full emergency thrust of ninety-five Gs, 931 meters per second squared of acceleration. Upon hyper breakout, they had adjusted course to close on the enemy. Their course was nearly identical to that of the enemy fleet’s and they had an intercept point in only two minutes.
‘Vulture’ sounded its battle cry over the internal intercom systems. “Patience my ass! Let’s kill something!” They killed their acceleration except for the necessary minor course corrections. Both ships launched twenty-four ‘sand’ barrels from the twelve broadside launchers, three launchers per broadside, rolling ship by ninety degrees each time and timing the launches so that each side fired in the same direction in rapid succession. The four bow launchers each fired a sand canister followed by a chaff canister, which both quickly burst to partially cover the ships’ locations. Then, the ships used maneuvering thrusters to decelerate, just a little, and let their sand and chaff move out in front of them. The Swarm escorts were already shooting at the Semmes and their missiles, or preparing for the gauntlet run of the main battle wall. They were looking in front and to the sides, not back into the electromagnetic haze of their engines. Also, the Swarm had crummy sensors. Coasting ships were hard to see.
The barrels silently disintegrated and the contents started to spread out, moving like forty-eight giant shotgun patterns. The first that the Swam knew of the danger was when about a large handful of sand, weighing only one tenth of a kilogram, clipped a rear-guard scout at three thousand kilometers per second. The kinetic energy impacting the scout was 45 gigajoules, the equivalent of an explosion of just over ten tons of TNT. The scout’s shields went down and the ship continued on a slightly different course as a spinning, dispersing collection of wreckage.
More sand was now hitting the other swarm ships. Even minor amounts, such as ten grams, hit with the force of a ton of explosives. Space is vast and hitting something as small as a ship is hard, but the bigger the ship, the easier the target and the more sand that generally hit at the same time. In a lucky shot, nearly half a barrel impacted on a cruiser. Its debris spattered several nearby lights with damage. The formation started to open up and spread out. As the rear guard scouts and the heavy cruisers turned to face the new danger, their length now became a new weakness as they presented a larger target cross section.
The chaff was simple, lightweight, metallic-coated Mylar ribbon that humanity had been using for anti-radar chaff for decades. Mass is mass though, so when it hit, it also had the effect of blasting the enemy ships, but since it showed up so well, it was more easily avoided. Its primary purpose was to confuse the Swarm ships’ sensors, and it did that.
‘Buzzard’ and ‘Vulture’ screamed though the enemy formation at a closing speed of nearly three thousand kilometers per second; launching more barrels whenever they could get even close to a solution. At this range their twelve medium and four heavy particle beams had a good chance of hitting and they accounted for more damage, destroying four more light ships and scoring hits on several others. Then, they were through and they started blasting for a clear path to a safe area to regroup. One Swarm cruiser managed to get ‘Buzzard’ in its firing range and it came apart. There was no point in checking for survivors. Much of the debris would impact the moon in less than an hour.
Another salvo of twelve heavy torpedoes from the Semmes finished off a damaged cruiser and punched a hole into another hive ship.
While the Swarm escorts were scrambling to cover the hives, ‘Raptor’ and ‘Condor’ flashed in from the front. They were following several layers of thinly spread sand that probably would not even degrade the enemy shields, but it covered their presence until the last few seconds. Being slightly ‘below’ the enemy formation as they closed, they first hit one of the recon spheres’ light ship screen. They killed a leading scout, damaged one attack-fighter and destroyed another before climbing through the screen into the central mass of the fleet. There, two of the in-system corvettes were damaged. One hyper capable corvette and a destroyer were destroyed and a cruiser literally fell apart under multiple strikes from small batches of sand followed by some heavy particle beams at close range. Out the other side of the formation, while damaging the colonizer sphere and destroying one of the scouts of its rear screen, ‘Raptor’ took hits from several enemy beams, but it survived the gauntlet to start its long deceleration run.
Half of the fighters from the carriers were with the fleet in a defensive posture, but there were nine squadrons of A-28 attack fighters and F-104 space superiority fighters screaming in behind the Semmes class ships. The F-104 Starfighters in particular were capable of killing a pilot just by letting them try to go too fast. Few fighter pilots were willing to believe that they could not handle everything their craft could do, but the Starfighter only had compensation for the first 120 Gs of acceleration. After that, there were another sixty Gs available that could be tolerated for seconds at most.
The hive fleet was now moving at ten kilometers per second and had moved two thousand kilometers closer to earth. It had come out of hyper less than six minutes earlier.
There were two-dozen corvettes of the Patrician and Castle classes waiting close in to the Earth and Moon. Due to their low accelerations, they were nearly obsolete now; they could not keep up with the fleet. However, they could still handle twice their weight in lightweight hive ships. They were backed up by a dozen of the new Shiro Class frigates. These were designed much like a Castle corvette on steroids. Bigger, faster and better armed, they could take on anything up to a hive cruiser and be confident of victory. They, along with three hundred plus Fl05 ‘Star Arrow’ fighters from defensive bases in orbit around the Earth and the moon and the seventy-two fighters each from the Margaret Thatcher, William Pitt and the John Fitzgerald Kennedy, got the job of killing the light ships and ‘attack fighters’.
Four Hero and four Goddess class battlecruisers formed the main battle line. Even without the enemy hives, they were barely an even match, mass-wise, with the enemy battleships and cruisers. Luckily, a dozen Asia and Africa class destroyers, and four Europa light cruisers backed them up. The Asia class was armed with an extremely short-ranged beam weapon and was primarily used now for mine sweeping, defense against light ships in close and various ‘utility infield’ jobs. The fleet was engaged in a complicated dance, trying to confuse the enemy as to their actual intentions, but they would wait near the home planet before moving to higher speeds. The Swarm had to slow down to land, and the fleet wanted to be there, waiting for them, rather than trying to slow down and speed back after having passed through the enemy fleet.
The hostile spaceships in the area were an indicator of resources available. Rarely had the Hive been actively resisted in space, but the gestalt did have vague memories of it happening before. The change in procedures would necessarily be extensive. The Hive communed.
“Admiral, the hive ships, all of them, seem to have quit firing or maneuvering. CIC is postulating a hive memory upload. Confidence high.”
“All flankers: move in and bite ‘em again. Put them through the gauntlet and prepare to break off as they come out of it.”
Raptor and Semmes class ships slashed alongside or dove through the incoming fleet. Missiles, beams and tons of sand pummeled the enemy. The Swarm fleet’s formation was in tatters. Escorts were dead and dying. Half of the cruisers were destroyed or crippled. One of the Hive Colonizers was spinning without drive power.
Twenty minutes later, the hive formation seemed to shake itself and start to maneuver again. Several missiles had gotten through while no defensive fire had gone out. Two more Raptors had made passes through the formation and they had scrubbed one hive sphere clean of light ships. The Semmes had slipped back and gotten off several missile salvos and two more torpedo salvoes.